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S.C. Department of Education says students will still need masks at school

Published: May. 12, 2021 at 8:36 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV) - There is some confusion over Gov. Henry McMaster’s executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask requirements at school.

McMaster issued Executive Order 2021-23, which empowers South Carolina parents to decide whether their children should wear masks in public schools throughout the state.

The South Carolina State Department of Education says students still need to have masks with them.

Education leaders are trying to figure out how to implement the order in schools. The State Department of Education says state face covering guidelines will remain in effect for now.

If parents sign a waiver, it will allow their child to go to school without a mask. The absence of the form is the reason the state department of education is not implementing immediate changes.

The State Department of Education sent the following letter

District Superintendents, This evening Governor McMaster issued Executive Order 2021-23, attached, that has language pertaining to the use of face coverings in South Carolina public schools. Due to the lateness of the Order, the legal ambiguities, and the absence of a DHEC opt out form, the state face covering guidelines will remain in effect until such time as the agency has the opportunity to confer with legal counsel and provide further guidance. As noted in the Order, face covering requirements as they relate to students and staff on school buses have not changed as a result of President’s Executive Order No. 13998 (Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel) (Jan. 21, 2021); CDC Order Under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. § 264) and 42 C.F.R. §§ 70.2, 71.31(b), 71.32(b) (Requirement for Persons to Wear Masks While on Conveyances and at Transportation Hubs) (Jan. 29, 2021).

Face covering requirements on school buses has not changed.

Schools with face mask rules still in place include:

  • Rock Hill Schools
  • Lancaster County Schools
  • Chester County Schools
  • Chesterfield County Schools
  • Fort Mill Schools

The schools will wait for more guidance from the State Department of Education.

The governor’s order also explicitly prohibits any county or local governments in the state from relying on prior orders or using a state of emergency as the basis for a local mask mandate and bars all state agencies, local governments, and political subdivisions from requiring what has commonly been referred to as “vaccine passports” for any reason.

With regard to mask requirements in public schools, the governor has directed DHEC - in consultation with the S.C. Department of Education - to develop and distribute a standardized form a parent or legal guardian may sign to opt their child out of mask requirements imposed by any public school official or public school district.

“We have known for months that our schools are some of the safest places when it comes to COVID-19,” said McMaster. “With every adult in our state having the opportunity to receive a vaccine, it goes against all logic to continue to force our children – especially our youngest children – to wear masks against their parents’ wishes. Whether a child wears a mask in school is a decision that should be left only to a student’s parents.”

Concerning local ordinances, the governor’s executive order explicitly prohibits any county or local governments throughout the state from relying on prior orders or a state of emergency as the basis for a local mask mandate.

“With the COVID-19 vaccine readily available and case numbers dropping, I will not allow local governments to use the state of emergency declaration as a reason for implementing or maintaining mask mandates,” said Gov. McMaster. “Everybody knows what we need to do to stay safe – including wearing a mask if you’re at risk of exposing others – but we must move past the time of governments dictating when and where South Carolinians are required to wear a mask. Maintaining the status quo ignores all of the great progress we’ve made.”

Additionally, the governor’s order prohibits any local government, state agency, state employee, or any political subdivision of the state from requiring South Carolinians to provide proof of their vaccination status as a condition for receiving any government services or gaining access to any building, facility, or geographic location.

As Governor McMaster recently said: “Vaccine passports will have no place in South Carolina. The very idea is un-American to its core.”

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